Finding Rest on the Road

by Kody Gibson May 16, 2023

Where Are We Going?

They say that when you have young kids, you don’t take vacations. Instead, you take trips. I don’t want to fight over the semantics of these two words, but I understand the sentiment.

When you have young children on vacation, the experience is rarely two beach chairs, toes in the water, and bliss in the sand. Don’t get me wrong, some of life’s greatest moments have come on family vacations. We can relax as we unplug and detox from bright screens and endless work. But there’s a reason some people use the trip/vacation distinction.

Even though you’re removed from the stress of one world, similar tensions and challenges exist as you travel with your family. If you’re like me, you lose your wallet and spend the entire first day of vacation searching for it. You break up fights between siblings, build the day’s fun around nap schedules, and test your family’s patience as you try to snap the perfect golden hour photo.

With that long list of potential family vacation pain points, I want to encourage you to add one more potentially stressful activity to your vacation plans – attending a church service. I know, you’re rolling your eyes just like my wife did when I first proposed this idea en route to our vacation destination. She came around, and I’m hoping you will too.

New Adventures

On our most recent trip to Oklahoma we went to a service where our friend was doing church revitalization work. It was an adventure. As we do almost every Sunday, we arrived a few minutes late. Our late arrival resulted in a wild goose chase through their old 1920s church building, trying to find the auditorium. After cracking a few doors open inside, and a walk around the building on the outside, we finally made it to our seats. Our daughter, who isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind, whispered, “This is the best Sunday ever!” She loved the adventure!

When it came time to pass the offering plate, something we’re not used to in our home church context, I encouraged our daughter to give some of her money to the church. I thought she’d put a dollar in, but she pulled a twenty out of her wallet. Before I could stop her, she’d dropped it into the plate. No turning back. When my wife praised her for her generosity, she stated bluntly, “They need it.” After her trip through the creaky old church, she wanted to help. We finished out the morning listening to a great sermon on Amos, chatting with some old friends, and watching our kids take a second lap through the old church.

I want to clarify that I’m not arguing for visiting a church on vacation as a mandate, rule, or requirement. This isn’t a legalistic guilt trip or me boasting about what we do. It’s meant as an invitation. An idea. More than that, we’ve seen some big picture lessons for my children (and me) from this new rhythm I’ve sprung on our family.

Teachable Moments

It teaches them that our need for grace in hearing the word preached, taking communion, fellowshipping with other Christians, and singing spiritual songs doesn’t stay at home.

One of the most popular family ministry Bible verses is Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Lord instructs his people to teach his laws to their children in everyday life moments – when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and get up. I’ve found attending church as a family on vacation can be a natural way to live out this text in a few different ways.

  1. Taking Our Faith With Us: The rhythm of visiting a church on vacation implicitly communicates to our children that our faith goes with us wherever we go. It teaches them that our need for grace in hearing the word preached, taking communion, fellowshipping with other Christians, and singing spiritual songs doesn’t stay at home. The songs, prayers, liturgies, and faces may be different from place to place, but it helps remind them that Christian faith is full of rich variety. We travel with burdens and fears and sins and pain. The church, ours or one we may visit, is a harbor for us to seek safety, forgiveness, and renewal.
  2. Teaching Them as We Go: Visiting a church on vacation also brings about explicit teachable moments referenced in Deut 6:4-9. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll ask why in the world they are going to church on vacation. That question in itself is a teachable moment. It’s an opportunity to explain our identity as Christ’s followers and the importance of the fellowship of the saints for our Christ-like formation. It allows us to teach our children the nature of the local church where “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 3:8-10).
  3. In addition to teachable moments on the Christian life and the church, I’ve noticed that this exercise prepares my children to learn and engage in Sunday morning worship. There’s something refreshing about visiting a new church. You see new people, and experience new church rhythms. I’ve noticed that I’m a little less distracted and find it easier to take in the experience. I think the same is true for my kids. This leads to conversations after church about what we learned, who we met, and what looked or sounded different. My wife and I make sure to throw in a few ways the sermon impacted our hearts and pointed us to Christ. Visiting church on vacation presents a natural way to share the same gospel truths we teach at home, but maybe to a more attentive audience.

  4. Seeing the “Global” Body of Christ: Visiting a church on vacation exposes our children to the diversity and expansive nature of the church. It teaches them that our faith, though very much lived out locally in our everyday lives, is part of a much bigger story than they know. In case they think that the Christian faith is a tradition only for their family and friends, these visits help them see that the gospel brings life to people of different ages, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds in all sorts of places. They experience the effects of Christ’s commission to his disciples and the fruit of the saints who have gone before us. Seeing the global nature of the church and the expansion of the gospel contributes, if only in a small way, to our children realizing that Christ’s blessings of salvation extend as far as the curse is found.

Vacations and Rest

Back to my daughter. One of the questions she asked me before getting ready for church on our last trip was something like, “Daddy, why do we have to go to church on vacation? Isn’t vacation about rest and doing fun things?” Notice the difference in our definitions of the getaway (trip vs. vacation). She’s right about vacation. It is absolutely about rest and doing fun things. What she doesn’t know yet, but is hopefully beginning to learn, is that our souls need a greater rest than any vacation could ever offer. As Augustine puts it, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” And those who have rested in Christ deepen that rest in the local church, with their spiritual brothers and sisters and mothers (Matthew 12:50), where they’re reminded of the gospel, use their gifts to serve others, and grow as disciples.

If vacation is about rest, then why not seek it at the place that points us to the one in whom it’s found? The church gathered is supposed to be restful and joyous. While it might not feel very restful to drag our kids to church on vacation, my hope is that they (and me) remember where our true rest is found – in Christ alone. I have no evidence that it’s working this way yet, but I’m banking that this new tradition will bear fruit in the long run. I’d encourage you to join us in giving it a try. If you’re planning your next vacation and would like to find a church to visit, I recommend the 9Marks or the Gospel Coalition church directories.

This article was originally published by Gospel-Centered Family and can be read here.

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